Moderate House Democrats are launching a new effort to highlight Russian election interference — while not directly tying the issue to President Donald Trump in a way that could alienate crucial swing voters in November.
The push by the Blue Dog Coalition — a group of 18 center-left House Democrats — comes as Democrats have struggled to determine their messaging on the Trump-Russia investigations ahead of the midterm elections. And it follows warnings by top intelligence officials this week that Russia is intent on disrupting the upcoming midterm elections even as Trump has seemingly done little to head off expected meddling.
“We need to urgently and aggressively work to anticipate what [Russia] might be doing,” said Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), a Blue Dog who is helping coordinate the group’s strategy of framing the issue as a national security matter. “It sends a clear signal to Russia and the world there will be consequences.”
Schneider is the lead co-sponsor of a bipartisan bill that would impose further sanctions against the Kremlin should Russia interfere in the upcoming election. The Blue Dogs are endorsing the bill Wednesday, a companion proposal to legislation introduced by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).
The Trump administration so far has resisted efforts by Congress to force tougher penalties on Russia. Trump has disputed intelligence identifying Russia as responsible for meddling in the 2016 election and the administration has delayed implementing new sanctions Congress overwhelmingly voted for last year in response to the interference.
FBI Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers Tuesday that Trump has not “specifically directed” any efforts to combat Russian interference in the midterms.
“I can’t explain why the administration is not taking action,” Schneider said, noting their bill was in the works before Trump blew past the sanctions deadline. But “this is something that we need to address. Russia is not going to abandon their efforts to meddle in our elections.”
Liberal Democrats have been happy to talk up the Trump campaign’s potential collusion with Russia in 2016, going so far as to call for his impeachment and forcing impeachment-related votes on the floor. Democratic megadonor Tom Steyer continues to pressure lawmakers to back his multimillion dollar campaign calling for Trump’s impeachment.
But the aggressive progressive push has put centrist Democrats in an awkward spot. They too think the Russia investigation deserves attention, particularly with the looming midterm implications, but worry that tying it too closely to Trump will politicize the issue in a way that will drive away critical voters.
Democratic leaders are also wary of how much to highlight the Russia investigation in the months before the midterms.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) hasn’t shied away from questioning potential Trump connections to Russia. But with the House majority increasingly in reach, Pelosi and other leaders have tried to discourage efforts by rank-and-file members to gin up support for impeaching Trump — wary that voters will see Democrats as obstructionists in November.
Schneider said the Blue Dog’s Russia focus is a “natural fit” for the group, which has always emphasized fiscal and national security issues. And he doesn’t think it will imperil Democrats’ chances of taking back the House in November.
“I think every American, Republican, Democrat, independent, whoever we are, we all want to know that the integrity of our vote is going to be protected,” he said.